Our guest columnist today is Dr. Connors from the University of Idaho. Take it away Jim.
What’s In A Name? Part 1 – National FFA
Dr. James J. Connors
Ask anyone involved in agricultural education what FFA stands for and they will respond Future Farmers of America. However, most don’t know the long and complex history behind the official name of the organization. Even today in 2021, most FFA members and advisors alike are unaware of the official name of their own organization.
The predecessor to the Future Farmers of America was the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV). Henry Groseclose, the “Father of the FFA,” is credited with naming the new organization Future Farmers of Virginia. He got the idea from the “First Families of Virginia” which included noted farmers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
In Dr. Moore’s Friday Footnote titled The Future Farmers of Dixie we learned that in 1927 agricultural leaders encouraged state officials to create state-wide organizations named “Future Farmers of ,” for their individual states. At a spring 1928 agricultural education conference, officials in the southeastern part of the country developed plans to establish a “Future Farmers of Dixie.” Although they included a caveat that if a national organization of “Future Farmers” clubs was established, then the Future Farmers of Dixie would be dropped. This is exactly what happened when the Future Farmers of America was established in the fall of 1928.
Things remained pretty much the same for decades. However, periodically as the agricultural industry changed, there have been calls to change the name of the FFA. As far back as 57 years ago, FFA leaders were investigating changing the name of the organization. In 1964, Dr. Tenney conducted a survey of Head State Supervisors about a possible change. The rationale for a new name was to broaden the scope of the organization to “serve secondary school youth who are preparing for agricultural careers other than farming.”
The results of the short survey were very interesting. A majority of the State Supervisors thought the name, rituals, or objectives should be broadened from farming to agriculture. They did indicate that it should remain one organization. However, the supervisors were almost evenly split, 20 – Yes and 19 – No, to change the name of the organization. The respondents who wanted a name change recommended the new name be Future Farmers and Agriculturalists, thus retaining the initials FFA.
Dr. Tenney reported the results of the survey to the FFA Board of Directors at their meeting on July 30, 1964.
Survey of Head State Supervisors on Changes in FFA
- Should the FFA be continued without change in name, rituals, or objectives?
Yes ____14____ No ____26____
- Should FFA ceremonies, objectives and creed be broadened from farming to agriculture?
Yes ____35____ No ____7__
- Should we attempt to serve all secondary school youth enrolled in vocational agriculture in one organization?
Yes ____36____ No ____6____
- Should a change be made in the name of the FFA so it may adequately serve all secondary school youth preparing for a career in agriculture?
Yes ____20____ No ____19____
- If you have a change in name, what name do you recommend?
Future Leaders of America 1
Future Farmers in Agriculture 1
Future Leaders in Agriculture 2
Future Agriculturalists of America 3
Future Farmers and Agriculturalists 12
One year later at the July 1965 FFA Board of Directors’ meeting, an FFA Study Committee Report – General Agreements was presented. Two of the agreements included:
- That one youth organization should serve the needs of students in vocational agriculture.
- That the name of the organization and the emblem should continue to reflect the broadening image of vocational education in agriculture.
The report also included the following:
Recommended Constitutional Changes
Article I. Name
That the name “Future Farmers of America” not be changed at this time.
In 1965, Earl Kantner, who was the Executive Secretary of the Ohio FFA Association, completed his doctorate at The Ohio State University. His dissertation was titled “Adapting the FFA to a Changing Program of Vocational Agriculture.” Just as was reported in 1964, the respondents to Kantner’s study recommended that the name of the organization not be changed at that time. However, they did list possible future names of the FFA in ranked order:
- Future Farmers and other Agriculturalists (FFA)
- Future Agriculturalists of America (FAA)
- Future Leaders of Agriculture (FLA)
- Future Agricultural Leaders of America (FALA)
- Agricultural Leaders of America (ALA)
- Agricultural Clubs of America (ACA)
- Agricultural Education Clubs of America (AECA)
- Vocational Agriculture Clubs of America (VACA)
A few years later in 1969, Dr. Ralph Bender, Professor at The Ohio State University, weighed in on the idea in a guest editorial in The Agricultural Education Magazine. His editorial was titled “FFA Has Been Effective – But Change is Needed.” Bender called for, “…the development of a Federation of Future Agriculturalists with divisions such as Future Farmers, Future Horticulturalists, and Future Agricultural Business Leaders.”
That same year, the delegates to the 1969 National FFA Convention had the chance to weigh in on a potential name change. In a proposal that would foreshadow future changes, a constitutional amendment to change the name of the organization to FFA was proposed. The proceedings of the convention state that “No action was taken on this amendment.”
The September 1970 issue of Agricultural Education magazine included several articles that mentioned a potential name change for the FFA. Wilson (1970) wrote:
Some rather convincing evidence can be cited to support the assertion that FFA as a national organization is institutionalized to such an extent that it is, at best, slow in responding to changes in vocational agriculture…the 1969 national delegates either elected not to consider or defeated proposals for altering the name “Future Farmers of America…” (p. 56)
Russell (1970) wrote about a proposal from the Lincoln-Way High School in New Lenox, IL to the National FFA Officers and Board of Directors to change the name. The proposal “suggested that the ‘Future Farmers of America’ name be changed to the ‘Agricultural Career Clubs of America’.” The author even acknowledged that after sharing the proposal with agricultural leaders “One group of teachers labeled the proposal a ‘crack pot’ idea” (p. 69). The following are two examples of comments Russell received about his proposal:
The idea you propose…is to me regressive…When you drop FFA (as a name?) you are killing one of the greatest organizations that America has had for the future of the foods and fiber industry…I would fear that changing horses in the middle of the stream by changing the name of this great youth organization would be a step backward. (p. 69)
I have been interested in this matter (of an FFA name change) for a long time. In spite of the obstacles, my interest continues. The “ACCA” idea…is the best that I have seen. I had about given up on renaming. (p. 69)
Russell recognized the challenge he faced. He wrote that “One of the supporters of the proposal wrote, ‘You have an up-hill battle to get official consideration of your proposal.’ He was right. To my knowledge, nearly thirteen months after the proposal was submitted to the FFA Board of Directors, no official action on the proposal has been taken” (p. 69).
A third article in the issue described the reaction to a potential name change in Georgia. Dunn (1970) wrote that “Generally speaking FFA members, teachers, and staff in Georgia have opposed a name change for the organization because of the prestige the FFA has gained over the years.” The author did state that “Many girls in ornamental horticulture, for example, object to being called ‘future farmers.’ Indeed they are not future farmers” (p. 69).
Throughout the decades of the 1970s and 1980s significant changes were witnessed in the agricultural industry. Vocational agriculture began focusing less on production agriculture and more on the diversity of agriculture including horticulture, forestry/natural resources, agricultural business, marketing, communications, and leadership, etc. Curriculum was slowly changing from a production agriculture focus to concentrate more on agricultural science.
Included in the June-July 1987 issue of The National Future Farmer magazine was The National Future Farmer Magazine FFA Survey. The survey asked FFA members to reply to questions about changing the FFA creed, officers, degrees, and junior high school membership. It did not include a question about changing the name of the organization. The only question related to the name asked members if “The letters FFA should replace the name Future Farmers of America in official ceremonies.” I have not been able to find the results of this magazine survey.
In 1988, the National Research Council’s Board of Agriculture formed a Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary Schools. Their groundbreaking report titled Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education called for sweeping changes to vocational agriculture in order for it to survive into the 21st century. The committee’s report stated that:
Even the name, the Future Farmers of America, continues to reinforce a narrow view of the organization, vocational agricultural education, and agriculture in general. Although some people have suggested dropping the “Future Farmers of America” name and only using the FFA initials would change the FFA’s image, it is doubtful. To the public, the full name and the initials are well known and interchangeable. (p. 43)
The committee’s final recommendations included that:
The FFA should adopt a new name, symbols, and rituals…consistent with a contemporary, forward-looking image of agriculture.
At the 61st National FFA Convention in November 1988, the FFA delegates discussed numerous amendments to the constitution that came from the National Research Council’s report. The proposed constitutional amendment was to change the organization’s name from “Future Farmers of America” to “National FFA Organization.” This amendment was adopted.
So, the organization officially changed its name to the FFA in 1988. Not so quick. As it is said, the devil is in the details. The National FFA Constitution Article I. Name reads:
The Future Farmers of America organization shall be known and do business as the National FFA Organization. Recognized units of the organization may officially use the letters “FFA” and/or the words “Future Farmers of America” to designate the organization, its units and/or members.
So, did the organization change its name or not? Let’s look a little deeper. Any parliamentarian will ask, what governing documents does the organization follow? Again, any FFA member should know that the FFA operates under a federal charter approved by the United States Congress. Since 1950, FFA has operated under three charters:
- Public Law 81-740 (1950)
- Public Law 105-225 (1998)
- Public Law 116-7 (2019)
The current federal charter – 36 U.S. Code Chapter 709 – Future Farmers of America reads:
36 U.S.C. §70901. Organization
(a) Federal Charter.-
Future Farmers of America (in this chapter, the “FFA”) is a federally chartered corporation.
So, let’s summarize what we have learned:
- Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the following names for the organization were suggested:
- o Future Leaders of America (FLA)
- o Future Farmers in Agriculture (FFA)
- o Future Leaders in Agriculture (FLA)
- o Future Agriculturalists of America (FAA)
- o Future Farmers and Agriculturalists (FFA)
- o Agricultural Careers Clubs of America (ACCA)
- o Future Farmers and other Agriculturalists (FFA)
- o Future Agricultural Leaders of America (FALA)
- o Agricultural Leaders of America (ALA)
- o Agricultural Clubs of America (ACA)
- o Agricultural Education Clubs of America (AECA)
- o Vocational Agriculture Clubs of America (VACA)
- o Federation of Future Agriculturalists (FFA)
- Future Farmers
- Future Horticulturalists
- Future Agricultural Business Leaders
- In 1988, the delegates amended the constitution to “change” the name of the organization from the Future Farmers of America to the National FFA Organization.
- The constitution states that units (national, state, chapters) can use the letters FFA or Future Farmers of America.
- The Federal Charter – Public Law 116-7 states that the name of the organization is the Future Farmers of America.
Whenever I teach about the history of the FFA, I ask my students “What is the official name of the FFA?” Most answer the National FFA Organization. While that isn’t technically wrong, I inform them that depending on your preferences the organization can be the:
- National FFA Organization
- Future Farmers of America
All of these are correct. The second part of this Friday Footnote will look at the official names of each state FFA association. You may be surprised to learn the official legal name of your state FFA association.
- Discuss the student’s perception of the name and occupation of “farmer.” Does it connotate a positive or negative image in the students’ minds? Is it a scientific and progressive occupation, or an antiquated traditional career field?
- What are the pros and cons of having one organization for students enrolled in school-based agricultural education programs? Should there be “divisions” of FFA for students interested in horticulture, natural resources, agricultural business, etc.?
- What new name would the students suggest for the FFA organization? How would they rank to various names that have been suggested over the past decades?
Bender, R. E. (1969, March). FFA has been effective – But change is necessary. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 41(9), p. 203-204.
Bryant, B. W. (2001). History of the Virginia FFA association. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Dunn, J. E. (1970, September). FFA is changing. Agricultural Education, 43(3), 67 & 69.
Future Farmers of America (1964). Minutes Joint Meeting of the National Boards of Student Officers and Directors of the Future Farmers of America, July 30-31, 1964. National FFA Archives. https://archives.iupui.edu/handle/2450/8967
Future Farmers of America (1965). Minutes Joint Meeting of the National Boards of Student Officers and Directors of the Future Farmers of America. July 29-30, 1965. National FFA Archives. https://archives.iupui.edu/handle/2450/8968
Future Farmers of America (1969). Forty-Second National Convention Proceedings. Washington, DC: U.S. Office of Education Division of Vocational and Technical Education.
Kantner, E. F. (1965). Adapting the FFA to a changing program of vocational agriculture. [Unpublished dissertation]. The Ohio State University.
Russell, E. B. (1970, September). Reactions to a proposal to change FFA. Agricultural Education, 43(3), 68 -69.
The National FUTURE FARMER Magazine FFA Survey (1987, June-July). The National Future Farmer, 35(5), 7.
Wilson, D. E. (1970, September). Proud past – bright future. Agricultural Education, 43(3), 55-56.
Yeatts, A. L. (1954). A history of the Future Farmers of America in Virginia. [Unpublished thesis]. Virginia Polytechnic Institute.